Opinion //

Where there is war, there is environmental destruction

On the links between armed conflict and resource extraction.

War and environmental destruction are so deeply entwined it is impossible to view conflict without considering their mutual relationship. 

Resource wars are the most easily identified. These occur both in order to protect an abundance of fossil fuels, as well as occurring over resource scarcity which increasingly includes water. For instance, conflict in the Middle East exists largely due to the United States’ attempts to maintain authority over abundant oil supplies to have control over international oil prices, particularly in Iraq.

By contrast, the scarcity of water is a significant cause of conflict in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa. The 2007 Civil War in Darfur, Sudan was regarded as the world’s first climate change conflict and the displacement of 13 million people by the Syrian Civil War can be traced back directly to climate change: drought and agricultural difficulties. The African subcontinent is extremely vulnerable to climate change and the inevitable conflicts that arise in response, yet has contributed a miniscule percentage of global emissions. 

Another fundamental connection between war and the climate is the military activities. The US Department of Defence is the single biggest polluter on the planet due to their carbon dioxide emissions. For example, the US occupation of Afghanistan since 2001 has contributed tonnes of emissions to global warming along with causing deforestation and destruction of the natural environment. Ironically, US army officials are concerned about the implications of climate change on their operations and changes they will have to make as a result. 

Indigenous land has been under threat for centuries, with imperial colonisers disregarding true owners in the interest of expanding territory to exploit natural resources. The legacy of colonisation lives on — attacks, encroachments and unlawful taking of Indigenous land continues, often driven by fossil fuel and logging companies. Contemporary examples include the Wet’suwet’en people, and the Kanaka Maoli of Hawaii. Attempts to take First Nations land for these purposes not only infringe upon land rights, but contribute to atmospheric warming and biospheric destruction.

Israel’s expropriation of land and settlement building subjugates Palestinians. The system of environmental discrimination is symbolised in Israel’s “Turning the Desert Green’’ policy which directly funds the key infrastructure for the Israeli military, including in the Negev Desert. Naomi Klein argues that this is an example of “green colonialism”, a type of environmental protection involving carbon offsets and infringements on the abilities of less developed countries. 

Climate change will make parts of the earth uninhabitable and prompt resource wars which could displace between 25 million and one billion people by 2050. Interestingly, rhetoric directed towards protecting the planet and reversing climate change often involves war-like language. We speak of “fighting” climate change, “destruction”, and a “war on climate change”. Even the Green New Deal echoes inter-war history. In light of the inextricable links between war and environmental degradation, we must question our framing of protecting the planet and humanity in this way. Perhaps it should be reframed less violently; to focus on compassion, peace and Indigenous self-determination over their land.